Santorini At Sunrise: Solo Hiking From Imerovigli To Oia
Santorini is beautiful and unique, but can definitely be a little crazy. Even in the early morning (around 7am), I occasionally came across people in lines for photos in Oia, with drones buzzing around me. But you know where there are NO CROWDS?? Yep, at sunrise on the famous Fira to Oia hike!
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I truly had this iconic Santorini hike all to myself…and given the darkness and early wake-up call, I wisely started in Imerovigli rather than Fira, and focused on the coolest parts of the trail.
I’ll show you how amazing this hike is at sunrise below, but from what I’ve read it’s also rarely crowded even during the day or at sunset. So it’s a great option to escape the crowds, particularly on a day when there are a lot of cruise ships in port.
The entire trail is a six-mile trek following a volcanic trail that borders the edge of the Santorini caldera, connecting Oia and Fira. To get a sense of it, you can see the general shape of Santorini in the pic below, how it forms a deep “C” around the caldera (sunken volcano) with a rocky ridge rising along the whole length.
That rocky ridge on top is where we’re going—the trail runs along the north end of the island (the right-hand side of the pic), giving us the Fira to Oia hike (or Oia to Fira, if you prefer).
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Tips for doing the Fira to Oia hike (especially at sunrise)
First tip—skip the first part and just do Imerovigli to Oia!! From what I read and heard, the Fira to Imerovigli part isn’t quite as cool, and it definitely shaves off time plus gets you the best views right when the sun is rising.
- Sunrise was around 7:05am when I was visiting, and I wished I’d gotten started about 15 minutes earlier than I did (more on that below). You don’t get a good view of the sunrise side of the island for probably 20 minutes once you start walking (it’s blocked by hotels).
- You definitely should have good shoes with thicker soles and support. The trail is a mixture of cobblestones, a bit of pavement, lots of loose gravel, uneven rocks, and more. Trust me, you don’t want to sprain an ankle up there!
- It gets super hot during the day and is entirely exposed (yet another reason to hike at sunrise). Take plenty of water, especially if you’re hiking during the day, and wear sunscreen (here are my faves) or bring a hat!
- Related to that, you can’t drink the tap water in Santorini…if you’re doing a sunrise hike, nothing will be open, so grab a bottle of water at a shop the night before or ask your hotel.
- Even though there’s plenty of “up”, I do think that going Fira or Imerovigli to Oia (directionally) is the right call in terms of more downhills, and especially at sunrise from a view standpoint).
- People will say that anyone can do this hike and that’s…kind of true? I’d classify this as a moderate hike, only because of the sometimes steep ups and downs and the at-times challenging path material (loose gravel, rocks, etc.). I had trouble keeping my footing at times in the loose rock and gravel.
- Similarly, I saw estimates from 2 hours to 5 hours for doing the full Fira to Oia hike in my pre-trip research. Two hours seems…crazy. I didn’t even do the whole thing and it basically took me that (I left Imerovigli 6:40am, arrived Oia proper 8:20am), and I’m a fast walker (though I stopped to take pictures occasionally). So I’d assume on the upper end of that if you’re doing the full hike, or just want to take your time.
What was great was that I had the hike basically to myself—I think I saw a couple workers headed into the hotels right when I started out, one guy walking, and a trail runner coming the opposite direction—up until I was almost to Oia.
Where to stay in Santorini: I spent one night at Aspaki Exclusive Hotel, and two nights at Charisma Suites. Both were awesome, but I HIGHLY recommend Charisma! You can see a couple pics of my room at the end of this post plus here’s my deep-dive review, but it is in the perfect location, service & rooms were amazing, & it was easy to get to taxis too.
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So let’s get started! I’d pre-arranged with my hotel to have a taxi pick me up in Oia around 6:15am, and it was around 25 minutes to drive to the trail starting point in Imerovigli.
If I were doing it again, I’d go maybe 15 minutes earlier than that…I got started around 6:40 and sunrise was around 7:05, but the first 20 minutes or so you can’t see the sunrise side of the island at all (you’re blocked by hotels).
The path in this first stretch along the hotels starts out as very uneven cobblestones, then turns to gravel for brief time, then (briefly, blessed) pavement.
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I felt like I was racing the dawn, trying to get a good view of the sun peeking over the horizon! The sky was lightening quickly, turning pretty pale pink.
The sunrise would be on my right, to the east, but the view out toward Oia (which you can see on the tip of the island in the second pic below) was beautiful as well.
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You’ll see these little Orthodox church shrines everywhere…my driver told me that they’re erected by families when someone dies, as a memorial (usually there’s a candle inside). Kind of like the crosses you’ll see along the highways in the U.S.
I knew I wanted to get up to the church in the second pic below as fast as possible, because I was certain the sunrise views there would be great.
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I did finally get past the hotels about 20 minutes in, and could see the eastern horizon on my right. Even though you’re headed toward Oia, make sure to look backward at the southern part of the island, and across to other nearby islands!
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I made it up to that first white church with near-perfect timing because I was BOOKING IT, and the view did not disappoint! I love how the fiery reds and yellows were really developing, and reflecting off the white church.
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I saw the even cooler blue-domed Church of Prophet Elias (not to be confused with the more famous monastery by the same name) up ahead, so hurried along the path. But this view of Skaros Rock (the one with the knob at the top) stopped me in my tracks to take lots of pictures.
The view over the caldera, with Santorini curving around and the tiny islands dotting the water, was just magical! I did not get to hike out to Skaros Rock due to time…I hear it’s at least an hour out there and back. But it sounds super cool.
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It is super steep leading up to the Church of Prophet Elias, and I speedily huffed and puffed my way up there. But BOY was my effort rewarded—the sunrise bouncing off the iconic white and blue church was unbelievable!
As a side note, the views of the caldera from this church and little plaza are amazing during the day as well, my tour of the island came up here.
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I finally tore myself away from the church view, and headed down the marked path. At this point the path was rough cobblestones for a bit, then really loose, shifting gravel, then loose sliding pebbles. It was steep going down, and so I was sliding a lot in parts, had trouble gaining traction. Be careful!
There was always some kind of signage at key points and I never had trouble finding the trail…and that IS saying something, because one of my (questionable) superpowers is getting lost hiking. Sometimes there were little red signs, and other times it was painted on a rock like the pics below.
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As you round the bend toward Oia, there’s a fairly short stretch where you walk along the actual road. This is the only part of the hike where you do that.
There was a little snack stand at this point, but it wasn’t open this early. I also hear that Avocado restaurant in Imerovigli right where you start the hike is a good place to grab lunch.
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Right past the snack stand, the trail veers to the left, back off the road and onto rocky steps, then loose gravel and hills again.
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You know you’re close to Oia when you hit the Assumption of the Virgin Mary Chapel, along with this very cool arch/flag view. From here there were a LOT of downhill stairs into Oia proper. You’ll be walking along through hotels for a while as well.
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Finally I hit the main drag! As I mentioned, I started on the trail at Imerovigli at 6:40am and hit the main part of Oia around 8:20am. And it was already hot!!!
I gratefully grabbed a quick breakfast and coffee at the lovely Karma before heading back to my hotel.
As you’re planning your Santorini itinerary, you definitely should consider doing the famous Santorini hike at sunrise, and specifically going Imerovigli to Oia!
Other amazing sunrise adventures you’ll love:
- Why A Sunrise Hike Up Masada Should Be On Your Bucket List
- A Breathtaking Sunrise Hike Up Sedona’s Cathedral Rock
- Sunrise At Bryce Canyon National Park
- Soaking in the Serenity of Scotland’s Tiny Isle of Iona
- Quiet, Cold, Love: Dog Sledding in the Arctic Circle During Polar Night “Sunrise”
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